Inside her van, Nelda Evans gathered her four children. She scanned their faces and the remnants of their belongings sardined beside them.
Never had she dreamed she'd be here. Helpless. Hopeless. Homeless.
A problem so shameful and widespread that the state Department of Children and Families staged "A Call to Action" Friday at
— whose congregants caught fire for the issue after a 60 Minutes' piece on homeless regional kids.
It wasn't a scenario that Nelda envisioned five years ago when she and her second husband moved to Central Florida so she could help care for her ailing mother. Only a year later, her mother and Nelda's sister moved south.
But Nelda, 39, made the best of it. In 2008, the former corrections officer in a Mississippi
facility left a McDonald's job for a position as a mental health technician.
Even a better-paying gig couldn't keep up with the hospital bills for her
crises. Scarce funds forced her to bypass her meds to meet her kids' needs. Her husband's on-the-job accident in 2010 only hastened the rising red tide.
Eventually, they separated.
Nelda needed money. One thought: nursing school. But that plan fizzled after another hospitalization.
In September, she was left her wondering whether there was some incantation that would stretch a $130 check.
Then came the knock at the door at the Orlando weekly inn where they'd been staying: Pay up or pack up.
"I didn't know where I was going to go," Nelda says.
That evening, inside the family van, she reached for a slip of paper, jotted down ideas, and apologized to her children, Kelsey Evans, 11, Joevone Vernet, 15, Nasondra Vernet, 16, and Juanita Vernet, 17.
"I told the kids if they give me a chance, I'd try to work as much as I can, and even try to get another job."
Her kids had their own news. She wasn't alone. They could get jobs.
Mom's response: No.
"My mom was telling us education is the key to success — the only way to get out" Nasondra recites as if scripture.
"This," Juanita chimed in, "was just another obstacle."
Nelda called area shelters. No room at the inn — a sad testament to both the mushrooming need and the urgent need for additional emergency housing.
During the day, the children attended school and maintained their honor roll grades. At night, they'd sleep in the parking lot during Nelda's overnight shift. On her breaks, she would step outside to check on them and step into the bathroom to pray.
In October, her efforts began to pay off. First Baptist Orlando paid for a temporary hotel stay. And in November, the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida lined up a room at the weekly inn where they'd earlier been evicted. And soon, the family will move into a subsidized Orlando apartment. After six months, Nelda will have to bear the full freight.
With a half-year reprieve, Nelda intends to add another trade on her resume: pharmacy technician. Maybe then she can make ends meet.
For them, there's hope. Something often absent among the 19,022 family members across the state who DCF says lack homes.
An embarrassment that was behind DCF's plea to businesses, nonprofits and government agencies that were shocked or shamed into action by 60 Minutes. The strategy: Prick the community's conscience and adopt an it-takes-a-village approach to help restore one family at a time.
Well, it's something — if there's real buy in. There has to be. Thousands of hardworking, decent families continue to land on the societal trash heap. Stories like Nelda's remind us that there are no throwaway families.